The Sugar Quill
Author: Imogen (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Bloopers  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

A/N: This is a series of outtakes from the ‘Carpe Diem’ and ‘Alpha and Omega’ series, where things didn’t go quite as smoothly as they should have done.

Thanks to Piett for the original idea, Anne for beta-ing and everyone else who’s chipped in bits and pieces for this. I can’t take much of the credit at all! Enjoy! I can do A&O if this hasn’t been too silly! Leave a review and let me know…

 

Chapter 1

"Harry, if you’re sure you could talk about it..." Mrs Weasley’s voice faded away, cracked with emotion. "Please." Her eyes were bright and shining with unshed tears, but there was a hope contained within them which gave Harry the courage he needed. He pointed towards the mug of milk.

"For Ginny?" A nod. "First door on the left at the top of the stairs?" Another nod. Harry left the kitchen to the sound of Mrs Weasley breaking down and quietly sobbing as he headed into the hallway.

Standing in the cool darkness outside Ginny’s room Harry was regretting his offer. What on earth was he going to say to her? He felt totally inadequate for this, but knew he owed it to all of them to try. It couldn’t be worse than that Hungarian Horntail – could it? Stiffening his resolve, he knocked gently at her door, heard a muffled, "C’me in," took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold.

"It’s me Ginny. Your mum sent this up."

Ginny was sitting on her bed looking even worse than the rest of her family. Her head was bent, and she didn’t even look up to greet him when he came in. Harry hesitated by the doorway, seeing her shoulders shake up and down with tears… or was it laughter?

“Ginny?” he said uncertainly.

“Come on and give me a kiss then, big boy!” A tongue ran along a pair of heavily lipsticked lips just visible behind the long red air. They glistened and pursed before making a loud smacking noise in the air.

Harry’s eyes widened. Ron was right; Ginny certainly had changed a lot over the holidays. Maybe even for the better. His hopes rose. A sudden guffaw of laughter broke out, before a hand reached up to pull the wig off and a familiar figure collapsed backwards onto the bed.

“George!”

*****

Chapter 3

Harry pointed his wand at the mouse, who scuttled back into a corner of the case trying to escape.

“Imperio!” he cried. A flash of light shot out from his wand, and to Harry’s amazement the mouse raised itself onto hind paws and began to pirouette gracefully across the floor of its tank. Harry removed his wand, and just as suddenly as it had started the enchantment stopped and the mouse dropped back onto all four paws again.

Ginny gulped.

“We don’t have to do this. Let’s just go back to the common room and play chess or something,” Harry said, looking at her stricken face. He made to pick up the mouse and his Firebolt.

“No!” said Ginny firmly, holding onto his arm. “I need to. Tell me what it feels like when the curse gets put on you.”

Harry explained how he himself had felt; the light floating feeling inside his head, the total release from the pains and aches of his own body, and the way it would have been so easy to accept the suggestion and do as he had been told.

“What you’ve got to do it think your way through it. Your own mind is in the back of there somewhere and once you can hear what you think you can break the curse,” he reassured her. “It took me a while to get it right though, and Ron still hasn’t managed it, so don’t expect too much at once.”

“Do it!” Ginny muttered through clenched teeth. “Same as the mouse.”

Harry looked at her with renewed respect. She stood in the middle of the classroom, completely determined, but he could see her trembling with fear. He suddenly found his mouth dry and swallowed, lifted his wand, saw her close her eyes and…

“I can’t do it, Ginny,” he croaked, shaking his head. “I can’t.”

“Please,” she whispered. “I trust you.”

Barely able to bring himself to look at her, he aimed again with his wand and took a deep shuddering breath. It was too much to resist.

“Imperio.”

A wide grin spread slowly across Harry’s face as the striptease music began to play.

*****

Chapter 4

Harry, Ron and Hermione strolled through the main street of Hogsmeade, companionably munching on chocolate frogs and hunting for a birthday present for Ginny.

"You should have been better organised, Ron," said Hermione severely. "I bought one for her back in August in Diagon Alley."

"Oh plenty of time," replied Ron airily "Her birthday’s not until the end of the month." Hermione laughed.

"That is so typical of you Ron Weasley. You’ve only got three days to get her one. Oooh! What about something from there?" She stopped and pointed to a small shop on the left hand side of the street. "I treated myself to a gorgeous necklace from there last year to wear with my dress robes for the ball." She caught Ron’s eye and flushed, but continued undeterred. "They’re not too expensive, and I’m sure Ginny will find an occasion to wear something like that later this year." Her eyes twinkled with unshared information.

"Not another ball," moaned Ron. "The last one was torture enough!"

"You’ll find out soon enough," Hermione grinned. " Now, how about this birthday present?"

They had only just begun to look through the window when they heard a familiar drawling voice behind them. Draco Malfoy, flanked as ever by his Neanderthal cronies Crabbe and Goyle.

"Surely you’re not thinking of buying anything here, Weasley?" his clipped accent drilled the insult home. He laughed loftily, "It’ll cost more gold than you and your brothers have put together."

Ron turned scarlet and would have dived at Malfoy if Hermione and Harry had not grabbed hold of the back of his robes and hung on tight.

"At least I’ve got people I care about to buy presents for," Ron retorted angrily, but Malfoy’s sneer became even more malicious.

"You mean you and that filthy Mudblood have finally started a relationship? Well, well! My congratulations Weasley. No money and no breeding should be a match made in heaven."

Before Harry had a chance to intervene, Malfoy’s brow wrinkled.

“Who on earth writes this dialogue?” he demanded, staring accusingly round him. “Like I’m really going to say that. He’s about a head taller than me for a start.”

“It’s true,” Hermione admitted. “They really should research these things properly. I mean, I read in Hogwarts: A History…”

“Shut up!” they all chorused.

“Three Broomsticks?” Harry suggested.

“It’s got to be better than this rubbish,” said Ron gloomily.

There was a murmur of agreement, and they all sauntered off down the street.

*****

Chapter 5

"Hi there!" Hermione called cheerfully. "You’re looking a lot better today, Harry." Ron, meanwhile, was frowning at his little sister.

"What are you doing in here Ginny?" he asked.

"Accident with a blast-ended skrewt," she said, smiling apologetically at him. "Madam Pomfrey’s fixed my arm now though." She glanced at her watch. "I’d better get going. I’ve got this afternoon’s work to catch up on now as well as half a mountain of homework to do. See you all later." She grinned at Harry and Hermione, tousled her brother’s hair and headed rapidly out of the door before Ron could catch her to gain his revenge.

Ron came back to his chair trying desperately to flatten his hair back down after Ginny’s attack, an expression out outrage on his face.

"Here let me," Hermione laughed at him, and reached over to smooth a particularly hedgehog-like part near the crown of his head. As she touched him, he looked into her eyes, holding her gaze. They both reddened, Ron looked away, and Hermione quickly dropped her hand back into her lap. Tension crackled through the air.

“Look, just snog her already!” Harry yelled.

******

Chapter 6

Hermione didn’t turn up for breakfast that morning, and the first time Harry and Ron saw her was when she appeared only just in time for the lesson before lunch; History of Magic with Professor Binns. She was unusually subdued and spoke little. Looking pale and tired, she scribbled notes feverishly on Urd the Norn, as the rest of the class slumbered gently in the warmth of the room, lulled by the soothing drone of their teacher’s voice.

"What’s up with her?" muttered Ron to Harry at the end of the lesson, nodding across to where Hermione was packing her bag. Harry shrugged and they hurried to catch up with her outside the classroom.

"Hermione?" Ron said tentatively.

"What?" she snapped, whirling round to face him. Seeing the concern on his face, her anger faded and her voice suddenly cracked, tears flooding her eyes. "Just leave me alone Ron. Please? I can’t take much more of this." She turned and fled up the corridor, books hugged tightly to her chest and headed up a staircase to the third floor leaving the boys behind her.

Harry looked at Ron.

“PMS again?”

“Yeah,” Ron agreed, swinging his bag onto his shoulder and heading down to lunch.

*****

Chapter 7

Dawn was finally upon them, and murky rays of light lethargically began to creep their way into the common room. Ginny had her wand pointed at Harry and was struggling to keep a straight face.

"Let’s get this straight," she reiterated in amusement. "You want me to put a spell on you to hurt you? All my dreams have come true at once!"

"Well, we’ve got to see if this works," Harry teased. "You never know you might have made a mistake somewhere and hurting me will turn you into a Cornish pixie or something." He winked at her, "I dare say that might be an improvement."

"Right then," she said with relish, and hit him with a jinx. Seconds later, she exploded into peals of laughter. OK, so she hadn’t been exactly truthful with him about what this charm bond did, but who would have thought that Harry Potter wore tartan boxer shorts?

*****

Chapter 8

Madam Hooch stood with the whistle in her mouth, as the team captains shook hands, then she blew a sharp blast, they kicked off and rose sharply into the air.

Soaring above the game, Harry’s eyes scanned the pitch for the Golden Snitch, knowing it was not going to be easy to spot in the murkiness of the morning. Cho was on his tail, following him, but Harry knew he could shake her off. Pushing forward into a sharp dive, he felt the exhilaration of the wind soaring through his hair, blowing away the dullness he had felt though lack of sleep, and making him feel alive. The Firebolt turned as if following his very thoughts, as he continued to search the area for the Snitch, listening all the while to Lee Jordan’s commentary.

"Spinnet passes to Bell. Nice swerve there around Davis, the Ravenclaw keeper. Easy does it. Watch out for that Bludger, Katie! Good, she takes aim, and yes! Cleanly through the hoop. 20-0 to Gryffindor."

Harry smiled to himself as the crowd went wild. He shot up above Cho and sped off, constantly seeking the tiny winged ball in the mist. A Bludger whistled past his own ear as he rounded the Gryffindor goalposts.

"All right there?" he yelled over at Ron.

“Just about,” Ron shouted back, diving swiftly to block the Quaffle. Harry almost fell off his broom in an effort to stop laughing. Fred and George were at it again. Pink hearts shot out of the back of Ron’s broomstick, with a large banner proclaiming:

“Use Brannigan’s Broomstick Polish: Because faulty equipment will often provoke laughter.”

*****

Chapter 9

Hermione and Harry wandered slowly down the portrait-lined corridor in the direction of the library, listening to the wind whistling against the castle walls. Some figures were nodding sleepily in their frames, others were away visiting friends in their far distant pictures elsewhere in the castle. None of them took the slightest notice as the two students strolled past.

"Ginny told me," Hermione said quietly, shooting him a sideways look.

"I guessed as much," Harry replied, blushing slightly. He hesitated, but knew Hermione would be completely honest with him. "What do you think?"

"The charm is incredibly complicated, Harry," she said thoughtfully. "It says a lot about your feelings for each other that you got the charm working in the first place. It’s very advanced magic, you know, and wouldn’t have happened at all without a strong emotional bond to start with."

"Ah!" said Harry, reddening further, as they rounded a corner and reached a tapestry concealed doorway. He tugged the handle. Nothing. He tugged again.

*****

Chapter 10

"No," he said slowly. "What you said last time was right. You make your own decisions about your life." He shifted his gaze from his sister to Harry. "Why don’t you ask her?" he suggested cautiously.

Harry’s mind almost exploded with the impact of the last question. He would like nothing more than to take Ginny to the ball with him, and had resigned himself to going alone this year rather than asking someone else. It seemed nothing short of miraculous that Ron was actually suggesting he spend time with Ginny rather than opposing it. Just as suddenly a feeling of dread settled in his mind; Ron didn’t know about the charm bond between them. They had to tell him.

"Ron, there’s something else we’ve got to tell you first," he said, looking nervously across at Ginny. "You might have noticed I’ve not been suffering from pains in my scar for the past couple of weeks. There’s a reason for that."

"Dumbledore suggested something to help him, and I wanted to do it," Ginny swiftly took over from Harry who was struggling to find the words. "You saw how bad it was, Ron. We couldn’t leave him to face Voldemort like that. He’d have killed him."

Hermione placed her hand on Ron’s arm but he shook it off brusquely.

He had gone a ghastly white colour.

"How does it work?" Ron whispered hoarsely. Ginny kept her eyes fixed on his face, and slowly undid her watch strap, revealing the ghostly mirror image of a lightning bolt scar, which Ron recognised instantly.

“Like this,” she said, an impish grin crossing her face. “Coniungo!”

As the whole common room turned to stare, Harry wished the floor would open up and swallow him. Why, oh why did he have to be wearing his Slytherin boxer shorts today?

*****

Chapter 12

An atmosphere of tension was building up on the Twister board as Harry and Ginny faced each other, preparing to do battle. Harry's eyes roamed restlessly around the coloured circles, his hands clasped behind his back whilst he surveyed the enemy who stood on yellow and green at the opposite end of the board.

Ginny spun first. On her command, left hands were placed on a neighbouring red circle. Harry knew what he had to do, and responded accordingly, his mind still surprisingly well focused on the game. More moves followed in rapid succession, and Harry was relieved to see Ginny playing exactly as her brother had predicted. He just needed to maintain his concentration, and all would be well.

As if reading his very thoughts, Ginny looked up from sliding her hand beneath his legs onto green manoeuvre, her warm brown eyes dissolving into his, making his heart pound erratically in his chest.

"Your move," she said softly, as the colour rushed into his face. His left leg moved two paces to the left, and as Harry tried to catch his breath, he realised that he had made a mistake. She crowed in triumph and declared that right leg had to be on yellow.

Harry stretched over her, furious with himself and trying desperately to work out how he could salvage the situation. She turned her face questioningly towards him. He thoughtfully touched the circle at the extreme right of the board. That looked promising. He was just about to call the move when he was startled by Ginny's hand brushing against his own as she reached across to sweep her hair out of her eyes. He swallowed; concentration shattered once more, and shouted something else instead. She smiled adoringly at him, making his insides disintegrate in sheer pleasure.

He played on, thoughts elsewhere, and Ron's carefully prepared tactics completely forgotten. The tangle of limbs became more complicated. As if transfixed, he gazed at her again, watching the titian tones of her hair glint in the candlelight, and then he noticed it. Almost imperceptibly, her mouth twitched in the corner as it always did when she was trying to suppress a giggle. Harry was certain of it. Ginny Weasley was undeniably up to something. Her eyes met his again, soulfully searching his heart, and as he tore his attention away from her and spat out a mouthful of her hair, he realised exactly what it was. He felt like bursting out in fits of laughter himself. She was deliberately making him go to pieces, and he had a sneaking suspicion she'd been doing it all week.

Harry thought quickly, feigning concentration and covering his mouth with his hand to hide his grin. Why not play her at her own game? Ginny had spent a large proportion of her first two years at Hogwarts blushing furiously and hiding from him, and if she felt the way Hermione thought she did, then there was a good chance he could reduce her to that again.

He directed his right hand onto the green circle beneath her, then lifted his eyes directly to hers, giving her a devilish grin. To Harry's delight, she turned crimson, and as he held her eyes captive, he became aware of the unsteadiness of her breathing. She moved her own hand, wobbling precariously.

The tide had turned, and the common room gradually emptied for the night, but they took no notice and played on. Ginny's hand trembled as she propped herself up and Harry's smile widened. Her eyes looked tremulously into his as she whispered a final colour, knowing what was to come. Her arm gave way, and she collapsed beneath him, knocking him off balance.

"I win," he said softly.

*****

Chapter 13

The tears began to fall, silently, and Harry reached out, burying her in a hug. There was no need for words; they would have been totally inadequate anyway. He held her; his world in his arms. The tiny stars glistened still in her fiery hair, and for the first time in a long while, Harry felt at peace with himself.

"Sorry," she sniffled, brushing the tears away brusquely with her hand. "It's been one of those days."

"Do you really feel like that, Ginny?" he asked curiously. "About us, I mean." She nodded, gazing up at him with a wan smile. Her face was inches from his, as he caressed her cheek thoughtfully, wiping smudges of tears away and making her smile. She propped herself up a little to look at him, and he saw the familiar sparkle return to her eyes.

"Harry Potter, you could procrastinate for England," she giggled softly and reached across to kiss him.

Instinctively, Harry tightened his arms around Ginny; the sensation of her breath brushing lightly against his lips made him forget to breathe himself. A gentle, slightly tentative kiss sent tingling shock waves of electricity through him, making the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and stand on end. She pulled back a little from him, hand still touching his cheek, her eyes widening as she stared at him. He could feel her trembling.

"Wow!" he managed to say, trying to remember how to fill his lungs with air. He swallowed. Breath eventually came in ragged little bursts, very unsteadily.

"I’m not sure if we got that quite right," she murmured, voice quivering slightly. Her eyes twinkled. "Let me just try that again."

At length, Harry reluctantly freed his lips from hers, fireworks fading from his mind. Except they hadn’t. A spectacular colourful display of Filibuster’s Fireworks was sparking away along the edge of the lake proclaiming the message:

“Took you long enough!”

*****

Chapter 15

"There you are!" Ron said, in relief, looking at Harry. " Where did you get to last night? Your bed's not been slept in."

"Fell asleep down here," Harry admitted sheepishly, deliberately omitting to tell him the entire truth of the matter. "Hermione's just woken me up. I've got a great crick in my neck this morning, I can tell you," he added, stretching and massaging the aching area.

"Harry's found out what the stone does," Hermione added quickly. "It predicts the future. Tells us what'll be happening in an hour, right here. Look at this!"

Ron leaned over the back of the sofa and watched with interest as the stone glimmered with the magic flowing through it, curiously liquid, yet strangely solid. Images appeared before their eyes, the confines of the common room clearly depicted. This time, Fred and Angelina were… with a wet haddock. But that wasn’t possible… Was it? All three faces flamed bright red. It appeared that it was possible.

*****

Chapter 17

Take One

"I won’t let it happen," Harry whispered hoarsely. "Get Dumbledore. I’ll go and get her back. Whatever it takes, I won’t let anything happen to her."

"Harry, I’ll come with you." Ron was shaking as much as he was. "You can’t do this on your own. Why didn’t that bloody protection spell work?"

" I don’t know, but I’ve been lucky before," Harry said grimly. "Get Dumbledore. He’ll know what to do." He tucked Ginny’s wand into his belt, and nodded seriously over at Ron. "I promise I’ll get her out of there somehow. It’s me they’re really after, so I’ll just have to make sure they stay away from her, one way or another."

"Harry?"

"Mm?"

"Be careful. All right?" Ron said shakily, putting his hand onto Harry’s shoulder.

Harry nodded mutely, worry twisting and wringing his stomach tightly.

"Get Dumbledore," he repeated. Then without a backwards glance, his throat dry with what he might find, he paced forwards. Hagrid had told him once that this time would come and they’d have to meet it when they did. Well, he needed to do that now all right. He had to.

Clasping his own wand tightly, he reached out a quivering hand, and firmly touched the stone statue of the dwarf with the twisted beard half hidden in shadows.

And didn’t move an inch.

“Bloody Portkeys,” he muttered, kicking the stone dwarf savagely. “Never work when you need them.”

Take Two

"I won’t let it happen," Harry whispered hoarsely. "Get Dumbledore. I’ll go and get her back. Whatever it takes, I won’t let anything happen to her."

"Harry, I’ll come with you." Ron was shaking as much as he was. "You can’t do this on your own. Why didn’t that bloody protection spell work?"

" I don’t know, but I’ve been lucky before," Harry said grimly. "Get Dumbledore. He’ll know what to do." He tucked Ginny’s wand into his belt, and nodded seriously over at Ron. "I promise I’ll get her out of there somehow. It’s me they’re really after, so I’ll just have to make sure they stay away from her, one way or another."

"Harry?"

"Mm?"

"Be careful. All right?" Ron said shakily, putting his hand onto Harry’s shoulder.

Harry nodded mutely, worry twisting and wringing his stomach tightly.

"Get Dumbledore," he repeated. Then without a backwards glance, his throat dry with what he might find, he paced forwards. Hagrid had told him once that this time would come and they’d have to meet it when they did. Well, he needed to do that now all right. He had to.

Clasping his own wand tightly, he reached out a quivering hand, and firmly touched the stone statue of the dwarf with the twisted beard half hidden in shadows.

Harry fell from thin air, slamming down into the soft sand beneath him. The wash of the tide and sounds of girlish laughter made him look up. This had to be some new form of evil torture Voldemort had devised. He braced himself. He could withstand anything the Dark Lord wanted to throw at him.

Bikini-clad girls were playing volley ball on the beach, jumping, diving and laughing. A brunette spotted him, and sped over, sliding down into the sand beside him. She flashed a sparking grin at him.

“Hi there,” she whispered. “You want to come and play?”

Well, what use was torture for if you didn’t give in to it?

*****

Chapter 19

He grasped her hand firmly in his, squeezing her fingers gently, and turned to face Voldemort, blocking her entirely from his sight.

"Move out of the way," Voldemort instructed in a calm but deadly voice.

"No!" Harry asserted with all his might, and braced himself for what he knew was coming.

"You should have learnt to obey me by now, Harry," he laughed coldly. "Perhaps you need another lesson. Crucio!"

Harry managed to glance apologetically at her for a split second before the curse hit him. He bit back hard on the pain and thought of Ginny. She loved him. Somehow, that was enough, and he stood steadily on his feet, upright and certain, and faced Voldemort, who was still casting the spell upon him. A flicker of confusion fled over the older wizard’s face, as Harry glared at him, rather than screaming in anguish. He was dimly aware of Ginny’s fingernails digging into the soft flesh of his hand as she took the brunt of the curse in silence.

"I will never leave her," Harry shouted angrily, as Voldemort removed his wand. Harry knew that this was their only chance. Voldemort was disconcerted by the lack of effect of the Cruciatus Curse on him, and if they were going to make a break for it, it had to be now.

"Stupefy!" he yelled, waving his wand in Voldemort’s direction, and pulling Ginny towards the door. They were within inches of the threshold of this great room, when they head a voice cry,

"Deicio."

Harry felt his hand wrenched apart from Ginny’s as his body was propelled through the air, across the room, and his back impacted heavily and painfully against the ridged wooden panelling, which lined the place. He slid to the floor, but instantly scrambled to his feet, frantic to reach her again.

"Expelliarmus," he managed to yell before the authentic plywood scenery toppled forwards and crushed him.

*****

Chapter 20

"You managed to escape then?" George chuckled.

"Oh we’ve really, really missed you, Gin!" Fred added, a twinkle in his eye.

"I’m sure you survived," Ginny retorted dryly.

"Things just haven’t been the same without you," George said in a very melancholic manner.

"We didn’t realise what a massive impact you had on our lives until these past six weeks without you," Fred proclaimed dramatically.

"Yeah. I mean, we’ve got up every morning and found we had socks," George said in total astonishment. "I can’t imagine how that could have happened." Ron sniggered appreciatively in the background.

"So just to show our total appreciation for our little sister…" Fred began.

"…we have a little present for you," George rounded the sentence off and they grinned wickedly at her.

"I know what your presents are like," Ginny started to object, but before she had a chance to continue, they pointed their wands at the castle and cast a spell completely in unison.

"Accio subucula totalis!"

Harry glanced curiously at Ron. It was some form of summoning spell, but quite what they could be summoning for her, he simply couldn’t work out. Then he heard a series of shrieks and when he saw what was causing the chaos he began to laugh uncontrollably. Every single bra within the confines of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was flying directly at them through the lazy afternoon sunshine. Bras of all different shapes, colours and sizes, soared through the air as easily and gracefully as birds. They fluttered and swooped as they flew, steadily covering the lawn and half-burying them. A flood of students cascaded outside, watching the spectacle in amazement. Ginny caught sight of Ron and squealed with laughter, entirely incapable of speech. Harry followed where her finger was pointing, and his own hysteria increased.

"Nice look, Ron," he choked, seeing his friend’s hair adorned with a rather fetching black lace number.

"And what exactly is going on here?" Professor McGonagall’s crispest tones cut across the mirth, sobering them slightly. Harry pulled Ginny towards him, lacy missiles still falling heavily from the sky on them.

"Enough!" Professor McGonagall snapped. "Finite incantem."

The barrage of bras ceased instantly, although the laughter ensued for quite some time. Steely eyes surveyed the scene through her severe spectacles, and Harry was convinced he saw her lips twitch just for a second. "Who is responsible?" she asked.

"Us," Fred admitted sheepishly, nodding towards George.

“Should have been socks,” George added. His face lit up suddenly, “This was wicked though!”

My office please. Both of you. Now!" she instructed them curtly.

They trudged off slowly up towards the castle, through the mountains of underwear, shrugging with resignation.

"Please Professor," Ginny said, hiccuping with giggles and tears streaming down her cheeks. "They were doing it to cheer me up; it’s probably as much my fault as theirs."

"They performed the spell, Miss Weasley," Professor McGonagall stated, smiling gently at her. "They must take the consequences." She raised her voice and spoke to the assembled throng of students. "I suggest everyone collects their own possessions as quickly and as sensibly as they can." She stooped and retrieved a fetching tartan one of her own before heading to her room to deal with the miscreants from Gryffindor.

Harry watched the staff and students sifting through the piles on the lawn, and clutched Ginny tightly with hilarity when he saw Snape disapprovingly stroll to an area nearby to rescue, and instantly conceal, a padded red satin number which appeared to be covered in attractive little pink hearts.

Chapter 20 continued

Harry helped Ginny to her feet, and they slowly walked back. Harry shot her a sideways glance; her eyes were bright with laughter, but it was obvious that she was completely exhausted. She was shaking badly with the simple effort of putting one foot in front of the other.

"Ginny," he began, knowing she was going to yell at him for being over-protective.

"I’ll manage," she said with real determination. "It’s just up a few floors and along the corridor." She suddenly clutched at his arm, and he caught her, sitting her down swiftly at the foot of the marble staircase.

"I know you can manage," he said gently, crouching beside her. "But you don’t have to."

"I’ll do it," she said grimly.

"OK," he agreed, wrestling his fears for her safety into submission. He had to let her make her own decisions if this relationship was going to work. "Just take it steadily, Ginny, otherwise there’s no way Madam Pomfrey’ll let me borrow you again."

She looked up at him in surprise with her fluid chocolate-brown eyes, and Harry could see a tempest of conflict storming within her.

"You know," she said quietly. "No one has ever just let me do something like this before. I’ve always had to fight to do what I want to. You’ve seen what it’s like with my brothers."

"I’m worried about you trying this," Harry admitted honestly. "But this is your decision, not mine."

"Oh Harry!" her eyes shone with tears, which she hastily blinked away. There was a long pause as her eyes searched his. "Am I too heavy to carry up there?" she whispered at last, smiling slightly at him. He shook his head, and with her consent, lifted her gently in his arms.

"It’s safer than me trying to magic you up there," he chuckled as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

He trudged slowly up the stairs, loving the feel of her in his arms. This was right. This was just where she belonged. Suddenly his foot caught and he stumbled forwards, struggling to regain his balance. Ginny toppled out of his grasp, landing heavily on the stairs in front of him in fits of giggles.

“Trick step!” Harry yelled, trying to yank his leg free. It was stuck fast, sinking rapidly almost up to his knee. “Who put that there after rehearsal?”

Draco Malfoy slunk along the landing, sniggering into his robes.

//
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